Disclosure:
This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share a commission.

“Tell me, do you like stories about things that really happened? Wonderful things that the Lord did?”

I grew up listening to Allegra McBirney’s stories. Not fairy tales or even parables, but true stories about real little girls and boys all around the world.

Our radio didn’t carry her program, “A Time for Sharing”, but she sent me cassette tapes of some of her programs. I treasured those tapes alongside my collection of Ethel Barrett and Uncle Arthur’s Storytime. I can still hear her sweet voice telling about Mrs. McGuffy, the mother hen who cared so for her chicks that she was willing to give her very life for them–just like Jesus did for us.

And then there were her books. My grandma’s library included some of Allegra’s hardback books, spiritual nonfiction “for grown-ups.” But my cousins and I read over and over again her tiny staple-bound, self-published books of 15 to 30 pages each. I especially liked The Rescuer because the St. Bernard on the cover (painted by Allegra herself, of her own St. Bernard!) reminded me of my cousin’s dog.

Now that I’m a “grown-up”, I find new meaning in her titles about family, like Children and Olive Trees and What Is A Home? I find great encouragement to persevere through the hard times in God’s Diamonds and God’s Harp. And The Shepherd Psalm for a Freeway Culture is much like another favorite, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller.

But Allegra’s stories for children will always be my favorites. Perhaps because they remind me of the truth of Mark 10:15: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

“Well I want to tell you about something that really did happen…”

Allegra McBirney was born in 1927, the second child of hardworking German storekeepers. A child of the Depression, Allegra recalls the special treat of finding an orange in her stocking at Christmas. Her older sister suffered ongoing complications from rheumatic fever, so Allegra found her friends in animals and their German nanny–the one who first introduced her to prayer.

In 1950, Allegra married Jack McBirney, a civil engineer student at Stanford University. In their first half-dozen years of marriage, the Lord brought both of them to a real and personal trust in Himself. And in the subsequent years, they had the joy of leading their six children to the Lord, as well.

God Himself in the middle of a certain night, in the midst of my tears, brought me to simply look in child-like faith to Christ and His blood shed for me–not to rituals, not to Christ plus sacraments, not to Christ plus my religious performance, but to Christ only–for the forgiveness of all my sins, and for His certain acceptance of me. In that precise moment I exchanged my sin for His Righteousness! Think of it! Perfect righteousness–Christ’s own kind–was put on my account…and His is the only kind that will ever be accepted for entrance into Heaven for anyone, Jew or Gentile.

(from Two Branches, One Vine by Allegra McBirney)

Allegra McBirney:
author, speaker, missionary, hymn writer, and illustrator

Writing Stories

Allegra has a degree in Creative Writing from Stanford University, but she likes to say that her greatest writing credential is her deep love for Christ. It is her heart’s desire to point others to Him. And she has faithfully done just that through the over fifty books she’s written, along with numerous magazine articles, hymns, and of course, her radio program.

A Compass for Prayer was one of her very first published titles. In the 1960s, Zondervan published the children’s book Jesus, friend of boys and girls and Moody Press her Little Stories from Mike’s House. But the titles she’s best known for are the ones she illustrated and published herself, her youngest daughter Kim often doing the calligraphy work for the title and chapter pages.

Allegra collected true testimonies involving children–stories that “really, truly happened”–and recounted them in the little books she published, including A Treasury of Very Special Stories for All the Family, Volumes I and II.

Another series she wrote, called God’s Amazing Animals, is based on the wonders and genius of God’s creation of various animals. She wove the story of salvation into her fascinating studies of each animal, with “language simple enough for children (but not childish!) and concepts deep enough to be profitable to adult readers, also.” When she could not find a professional artist to do the cover illustrations for the God’s Amazing Animals, Allegra simply looked to the Lord and asked for help. “And by His grace, He did help me–prayer after prayer–and brush-stroke after brush-stroke–as I made very large paintings (to make it easier to work on the small details)…”

As a little girl, my most special and exciting thing to do was to write stories in the attic–always using what was left of assorted pencils and also using the backs of old school papers (because it was during The Depression and I learned to waste nothing).

And now, these many years later, I’ve continued writing stories–but using a computer–and my stories are based on the Gospel, and are now going around the world.

(from a prayer letter written by Allegra, May 2016)

6 Little McBirneys

Doctors told Allegra that she couldn’t have children. She lost four babies. But God gave to her and Jack six healthy little ones, each one an answer to prayer. Allegra felt it such a privilege to be the mother of six miracles. She wrote in Children and Olive Trees, “But, really, isn’t every child a miracle? If we would simply not forget that, but would maintain that perspective–which is God’s perspective–there’d be no alternative to valuing them as real treasures–yes, even when their care is exceptionally demanding, and may bring tears.”

How I remember my days with little ones–and how I treasured every tired but wonderful moment with them. I remember making a quick note of one special moment after another, notes that turned into Little Stories from Mike’s House (one of several books which I somehow managed to write during those early years–one quick thought and sentence at a time!–and by God’s grace, sell to major publishers).

(from a personal letter by Allegra, 2012)

“A Time For Sharing” Radio Program

Allegra wrote and presented her own radio program throughout the 1970s and 1980s. “A Time for Sharing” was carried by Family Radio across the United States (and translated for foreign broadcasts). While her radio program was directed to adults, she often featured her children’s stories on air. (Those are the source of the cassette tapes I now cherish!)

Her signature use of capitalization and extensive punctuation was formed as she edited her radio scripts, in order to help her remember to emphasize and pause by turns as she read. Reading her words now, I see the all caps on the page and can hear her voice emphasizing the words.

Ministry to Military Families

During the 1980s, Allegra focused on her calling to minister to military families. She and her youngest daughter, Kim, would travel to military bases all over the U.S. and Europe. There Allegra ministered to military wives who tended to feel isolated and lonely, with fewer sources for counsel and communication than we have now.

One prayer letter spoke of a trip to Germany where she had been invited to speak at a women’s luncheon on a military base. The meeting place, however, was in the basement of a former morgue. Allegra wrote of how she had prepared a special message for that luncheon, but instead the Lord changed her message and led her to share her testimony. “He led me to share instead the miracle of the change that He had made in my life, from being merely ‘religious’ to being truly born again! And God held their attention every moment as I shared this amazing transformation.” She went on to tell of how one woman asked afterward if she could speak with her privately. They found a room where they could talk without interruption–which turned out to be the autopsy room–and there in that “room of death” the woman found life–life eternal–as she gave her heart to Jesus as her Savior.

We have a strong sense of urgency in “being about the Father’s business,” as we view world events in light of Scripture. There is no higher priority than the proliferation of the Gospel. Actually, we have felt that urgency ever since we were born-again many years ago–through transferring our trust from our own “religiousness” to Christ and His sin-payment on the cross, as the sole means for obtaining eternal life.

(from a prayer letter by Allegra, 1997)

61 Years of Ministry and Marriage

Jack and Allegra McBirney labored side by side in the Lord’s work all throughout their 61 years of marriage, sometimes physically together, sometimes separated by continents. They became missionaries to Newfoundland in the early 1960s, together with their six children. The McBirney family spent about seven years on the mission field, teaching God’s Word to children and teenagers through Bible clubs and leading home Bible studies for adults. When they had established a Bible-teaching church, they returned to the United States. Jack was instrumental in founding two Christian schools in the San Francisco area, one in 1970 and another in 1991. Meanwhile, Allegra poured her heart into her radio ministry, writing, and speaking. Jack also made many trips to Russia (in between treatments for cancer), burdened to lead communist teachers to Christ and introduce a Christian curriculum into former communist schools. Jack and Allegra’s final years, however, brought them closer together than ever:

Jack and I were married for 61 years. And during the later years, I cared for him 24/7, by myself, as he struggled greatly with Alzheimer’s. And yet surprisingly, despite the difficulties, I think of those years as the sweetest of all our 61 years of marriage…because life was reduced to its basics. No more tight schedules, no more heavy demands, or never-ending activity. It was just Jack and I and Jesus! The three of us interacting constantly, until Jack’s move to Heaven which was just a natural transition.

(from a personal letter by Allegra, 2011)

“Heaven is my home, earth is my business address.”

Allegra felt blessed with years of a full schedule of opportunities to share Christ and His Word with women’s groups all across the U.S. When her youngest daughter and road trip companion got married, Allegra purchased a Great Pyrenees dog as a traveling companion. On each cross-country speaking tour, she would drive her one-ton van with her “one ton” guard dog “Snow Bear” accompanying her. He spent 11 years and an estimated 125,000 miles riding shotgun with Allegra.

When her husband Jack’s health began to decline, Allegra stopped traveling to care for him. Today, she’s 90 years old. Despite severe cataracts, and constant health struggles (including a withered hand, a thyroid tumor, and half a dozen near death experiences due to heart issues), she continues her ministry and correspondence from her home–often even from the confines of her bed. Allegra calls it her “one-person publishing company” as she continues to oversee the translation and distribution of her books around the world, for the outreach of the Gospel.

When Jack became ill, I put aside my speaking ministry–which for many years had taken me across the U.S. annually, and also to many foreign countries. But when the speaking ministry terminated, the Lord graciously created a new ministry for me–precisely tailored to fit my new home-bound situation! I continue in awe of this publishing ministry which so perfectly fits my home-bound situation… (from a personal letter)

I consider each book as being a “missionary-in-print” which could reach far more contacts than I could ever reach by again serving the Lord as a missionary-in-person!

(from a personal letter written by Allegra, 2017)

“Well, that is a story that really happened, and it has a happy ending too, doesn’t it?”

Lessons from the Stories of Allegra McBirney

Lessons from the Stories of Allegra McBirney

Each of Allegra’s books are filled with precious stories and nuggets of truth. But I want to share with you today a few snippets from some of her prayer letters, as well as a few choice quotes from her books in my collection.

“When the Lord guides, He provides.” (Allegra McBirney)

“When the Lord guides, He provides.”

The specific need of every heart–worldwide–is known by the Lord, and His Word is custom-made to meet them all…but it is our responsibility to get His Word to them…

(from a prayer letter written by Allegra, May 2016)

The Lord always makes some kind of means available to share Him…if we really want to. I know!

(from a personal letter written by Allegra, 2008)

During more than 50 years of missionary service, never have I–nor my Jack–ever “solicited donations” or asked for “even a penny”, despite the many needs of our big family (6 little McBirneys) but instead we asked the Lord to guide us in our ministry, and then we depended on Him to ‘touch hearts’ to meet our needs, and when the Lord guides, He provides. His faithful help was always provided, always abundant, always amazing, and always “on time”.

(from a prayer letter May 2016)

May He Himself continue to encourage you and to assure you that our spiritual enemy, if he attacks your ministry, is only proving that it is truly accomplishing so much for the Lord Jesus that is has drawn his (Satan’s) attention and attack. I myself have almost made it a measure of the effectiveness of my own ministry whether it has drawn enemy fire or not. If it hasn’t, maybe I’d better re-evaluate the significance of it in God’s sight…

(from a personal letter written by Allegra)

If the Fruit-of-the-Spirit is operative in a life, soul-winning will take place in a natural and highly effective way. If there is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control that is not only evident, but even conspicuous in a life, then that Christian life is going to make an impact on those around!

(from Children and Olive Trees by Allegra McBirney)

The pressure then was necessary for the praise now… If it weren’t for the trials, the hard things God allows in our lives, we wouldn’t sound forth as sweet a testimony of praise to Him, either. (from God’s Harp by Allegra McBirney)

“The pressure then was necessary for the praise now.”

The pressure then was necessary for the praise now… If it weren’t for the trials, the hard things God allows in our lives, we wouldn’t sound forth as sweet a testimony of praise to Him, either.

(from God’s Harp by Allegra McBirney)

Whatever has taken place in our lives–the very thing that has caused our desperate tears–has first passed through the Heavenly Father’s heart of love, before it ever came our way. And His purpose in allowing it has been to mold us into the closer image of His dear Son…and only in eternity will we fully realize how important and loving a purpose that was.

(from If Only by Allegra McBirney)

If, rather than letting our imagination run rampant with fear as we consider our future, we’d stop it cold with the realization that God Himself–with all His power and ability and love–stands between us and that future, perfect peace would be assured.

(from Perfect Peace–is it yours? by Allegra McBirney)

“When the Lord Jesus is both present and in charge, there will be peace, in both the individual and the home.” (from What is a home? by Allegra McBirney)

“When the Lord Jesus is both present and in charge, there will be peace, in both the individual and the home.”

(from What is a home? by Allegra McBirney)

Do we view our children as real treasures–not just theoretically, either, but in our actual day-by-day interaction with them? Are we deeply aware of their tremendous value? And do we think of them as “handmade by God,” and equipped with His own potential?

(from Children and Olive Trees, by Allegra McBirney, chapter II)

Discipline, like pruning, must be consistent. To deal with a young plant severely  one season, and then to let it go for many seasons thereafter–before giving it direction again–would not bring about a symmetrical and productive tree! And, similarly, our discipline must be consistent, too.

(from Children and Olive Trees, by Allegra McBirney, chapter III)

With homes, it’s never the externals that count, but, rather, it’s the quality of living going on within–a quality of living that will always be determined by whether or not Jesus Christ dwells in the hearts of its occupants…and by whether or not He’s in charge. Inside a home there’s a feeling. It’s a very detectable feeling of basic peace and all-rightness if Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord in that place; but there’s a sense of static, and stress, and a darkness you can feel if He is not.

(from What is a home? by Allegra McBirney)

The Lord’s desire is for all believers to let His light shine--through their words, their actions, and their re-actions, too--and also through their love for others… a love that has its Source in His Presence within them. “Letting” His Light shine reveals not only that Presence of Jesus within the believer, but also brings glory to the Father in Heaven--and brings unbelievers to faith in Jesus as their Saviour, too. (from Wonderful Names of Jesus by Allegra McBirney)

“May Christ’s Light within us shine faithfully for His praise…without flickering…”

The Psalmist wrote: “Your Word have I hid in my heart…” Have we done likewise through memorizing that Word, and storing an adequate supply in our hearts to use as weapons when we face attacks? That supply must be laid in store before it is needed–or we may find ourselves suddenly under attack with no spiritual weapons to use for our defense…no promises from God’s Word on which to rely for winning the battle and bringing glory to the Lord. God’s Word in our hearts gives us God’s answers for our defense–in place of our own, which have no power or authority against the enemy.

(from Wonderful Names of Jesus by Allegra McBirney)

A diamond shines from reflected light… And, plainly, the Christian has the ultimate Light Source, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. It is Christ’s shining deep within which results in that spiritual sparkle which cannot be duplicated by the make-believer. And every time the Lord puts a believer against the cutting wheel, in processing him or her spiritually, it’s for the purpose of producing an additional facet from which to reflect the Saviours light.

(from God’s Diamonds, by Allegra McBirney, chapter V)

The Lord’s desire is for all believers to let His light shine–through their words, their actions, and their re-actions, too–and also through their love for others… a love that has its Source in His Presence within them. “Letting” His Light shine reveals not only that Presence of Jesus within the believer, but also brings glory to the Father in Heaven–and brings unbelievers to faith in Jesus as their Saviour, too.

(from Wonderful Names of Jesus by Allegra McBirney)

Prayer is like music. It may be defined and explained, but its full meaning--the glory of it--can never truly be realized until it has been experienced. Music must be heard, and prayer must be practiced in order really to be understood and appreciated. (from A Compass for Prayer by Allegra McBirney)

“Prayer can never mean all God intended that it should unless we come to Him prepared in heart and mind and will.”

Prayer can never mean all God intended that it should unless we come to Him prepared in heart and mind and will. Our heart must want to talk with God; our mind must put aside irrelevant thoughts; our will must  be submissive to the Father’s.

(from A Compass for Prayer by Allegra McBirney)

Those who love and respect Him and as a result strive to live and to pray according to His will need have no fear that their prayers will go unanswered. God may, in love, delay an answer for a time, but meanwhile we must  never doubt that He has listened and will reply whenever and in whatever way He knows to be best. Sometimes, we must realize, His answer needs to be “No,” for some of our requests are simply not in accord with HIs divine will. We see our welfare only for the moment, but God sees it for eternity. And just as human fathers with their children’s welfare at heart must often answer “No,” our heavenly Father also finds this answer necessary at times.

(from A Compass for Prayer by Allegra McBirney)

Prayer is like music. It may be defined and explained, but its full meaning–the glory of it–can never truly be realized until it has been experienced. Music must be heard, and prayer must be practiced in order really to be understood and appreciated.

(from A Compass for Prayer by Allegra McBirney)

He doesn’t want to be merely the One to whom believers run in times of stress, but also wants them to be “at home” in Him… The “at home” kind of relationship with the Lord doesn’t come automatically. It takes quality time with Him in His word, and much real heart-communication with Him in prayer. And often it involves testing and tears.

(from Three Word Pictures of the Lord by Allegra McBirney)

“The safety of the sheep does not depend on their own sufficiency, but on that of their shepherd.” (Allegra McBirney)

“The safety of the sheep does not depend on their own sufficiency, but on that of their shepherd.”

The safety of the sheep does not depend on their own sufficiency, but on that of their shepherd. A sheep’s safety is equal to the adequacy of its shepherd. If a shepherd were careless and incapable, his flock would be in desperate danger; but  if a shepherd were caring and reliable, his flock would be safe. Christ says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” How caring and reliable is He? Perfectly so. And, as a result, how safe are His sheep? Perfectly safe.

(from The Shepherd Psalm for a Freeway Culture by Allegra McBirney)

God compares Satan with a “roaring lion”–and a roaring lion implies a ravenous one. (1 Peter 5:8) ….Satan’s appetite for evil is never satisfied, and he’s constantly on the prowl, seeking to destroy. And what resistance does a sheep have against an animal like that? None, of course–except its shepherd. And of ourselves we have no defense against Satan, either. He’s powerful, and he’s crafty. We’re no match for his powers. The only One who has power over Satan is the Lord Himself. And, consequently, our only defense against him is Christ Himself as our Shepherd, to do our defending for us.

(from The Shepherd Psalm for a Freeway Culture by Allegra McBirney)

Sheep…are extremely near-sighted. And, really, apart from Christ, we have no vision of the far-off, either–no ability to see the value of things that lie ahead, things eternal. Our perception is limited to the close-up. Spiritual realities which lie ahead are not within our focus. Only the Good Shepherd has perfect vision of things far off! He alone can view “the end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10) And only His sheep have the benefit of His perspective–which views eternity as clearly as the present moment.

(from The Shepherd Psalm for a Freeway Culture by Allegra McBirney)

“The battle is not yours, but God’s.” II Chronicles 20:15

Shamgar and the Ox-goad

Even if you have read the Bible from cover to cover, I question that you would remember him, because he occupies only one verse of Scripture, and yet, “Shamgar” is my hero! He was a poor farmer who raised oxen for a living and you can imagine his shock when one day God Himself came to him, and said, “Shamgar, the enemy is near! The Philistines are ready to strike, and I want you to go to battle against them.”

Shamgar had a hard enough time realizing that God was in his presence, but you can imagine how stunned he was to also be assigned to face the Philistines (who had never yet lost a battle). Shamgar immediately explained that he had no military training and also no weapons!

But God said: “What is that in your hand?”

And Shamgar said: “It is an ox-goad” (which is simply a big stick!).

But God made no comment… And so, Shamgar, being a Godly man, obeyed the Lord… And to make a long story short: Shamgar returned at the end of the day having killed 600 Philistines, and thereby “delivering Israel.” And it was the Philistines’ first loss! (And surely the first battle won with an ox-goad.)

Here I am, at the age of 89, living quietly, with an unchallenged schedule as I write another book, when all of a sudden God calls me to wage spiritual warfare. And I said, “Lord, I’m not trained to face opposition like that. And what do I have as a weapon?

But the Lord said simply, “What is that in your hand?”

And I said, “It is a book.”

He said, “I know that book, because I guided you in writing it, and it is filled with my Word which is the one and only weapon that can defeat the Enemy!”

And so, armed with my book, I headed out to do battle with strong spiritual opposition, but was assured that:

“The battle is not yours, but God’s.”
II Chronicles 20:15

(from a prayer letter written by Allegra, May 2016)

Learn more about Allegra McBirney by visiting AllegraMcBirney.com.

(Stories and quotations used by permission of the family of Allegra McBirney.)

Photography (of elephant, giraffe, dog, and frog): JenniMarie Photography
Photography (of slug): Chantel Brankshire
Photography (of sheep): Jessica Elisabeth

2 Comments

  1. Thank you Gretchen for this wonderful blog post. I love hearing about women who radically love the Lord and go the distance through all of life. She is an amazing lady and inspiration! The world needs more women like her.

    1. Thank you, Pam, for being another inspiring lady! Already, generations have been blessed by your testimony and words.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *